Callipygia's Shakedown Cruise

In the fall of 2000, Pat wrote this article for the Tayana Owner's Group (TOG) newsletter. It describes how we as Callipygia's crew made the transition from fearful wannabe cruisers to real honest-to-goodness liveaboards engaged in cruising the far blue waters.

Ever since I was a kid growing up in Scotland, I dreamed of cruising around the world in a sailboat.  I learned to sail there, first in a dinghy, and later in an elegant 8-meter wooden sloop. The experience as a young adult of enduring a partial dismasting in an east-Atlantic storm did nothing to diminish my desire–although it surely was responsible for the large dose of caution that simmered in the background of my dreaming.

As with many young dreamers, the requirements of adulthood, (in my case, marriage, emigration to the US, child rearing, divorce, and a career) slowly crushed my cruising fantasy until it fell out of my awareness altogether. Then, one evening in 1995, a Richmond, VA, acquaintance showed me a picture of the Pearson 27 she owned and now must sell as she moved to the mid-West. “Eureka!!.” My dream exploded into my mind, rushed up from its musty basement, dusted itself off, and brought forth “I’ll buy it” from my unwitting mouth.

I began to develop a 10-year plan that would get me to the cruising life-style by my 65th birthday, at which point I presumed I would retire. I proceeded to take every available course from the Power Squadron and the Maryland School of Sailing and Seamanship. I raced on the Chesapeake a few times to gain a little from that experience and learned how to single-hand the Pearson, aptly named Tempus Fudgeit. In year 3, I concluded that the cruising life was best done in partnership, and being partner-less, I allowed the dream to again subside under my ingrained workaholic habits. Then, serendipitously, I began a conjugal relationship with an old friend, Bill Dillon. After the initial intensity of our connecting subsided we began to look at what life together might be like. Wonder of wonders, it turned out that he too had dreamed of blue-water cruising. Before we knew it we were rapidly fantasizing about how to make that a reality.

One thing led to another, and the D.C. area real estate market rebound of ‘99 produced the necessary boat kitty from selling one of our 2 houses. We put the Pearson up for sale, and thought about what our cruising boat would look like. Armed with a list of 50 attributes (topped by “affordable”) we recruited Teta Howard, of Annapolis Yacht Sales to help us find it. The 12th boat Teta showed us was a nameless Tayana 37, a type with which we were totally unfamiliar. But not for long. After a second look, and checking off our attribute list, we read the review of the model in Practical Sailor’s Practical Boat Buying book. No doubt about it, this was our boat.

In October, hull #470's owner, Rich Wilder, came to Annapolis for the survey, and if ever we had any reservations about what we were doing, he erased them. Rich was a great support to us as we dealt with grasping the reality of shifting from a 27' to a 37' vessel. The complexities of the boat systems, and her idiosyncracies, were at first daunting, but then delighting. With hull #470 newly named Callipygia, we hauled out for the winter on the edge of the Chesapeake at Herrington Harbor North in Deale, MD. At that time, we still thought living aboard would be 3-years away.

Watching his 65th birthday arrive in November, Bill decided he wanted to retire and devote full time to furthering our dream. Then the prospect of my turning 62 in February, 2001, brought forth my own realization that I could retire now. We could scrape by financially. It slowly dawned on us that there was no real reason to delay. And so we quickly embarked on a series of upgrades to Callipygia over the winter--and then faced the challenge of how to prepare ourselves to competently crew her.

An ad in the February edition of Spin Sheet, the Chesapeake Bay monthly, caught my eye. “Nautech Enterprises Sponsors New England Rally.” A 600-mile late June cruise from Annapolis to Camden, Maine, by way of Newport, for beginning cruisers. It sounded like just the ticket. We would have time to complete our upgrades, and the security of being in company with some other boats–but, most importantly, it would give us a goal and focus our preparation efforts. We signed up for the Rally and for Nautech’s Weather, Offshore Passagemaking, and Offshore First Aid and Safety Equipment seminars.

I wrote this article sitting in Callipygia, in September, 2000--two months after returning from Maine. We had rented our house and moved aboard. We intended to complete our transition to the cruising life in early October by transiting the ICW to the November SSCA Gam in Melbourne, FL, and thereafter head to the Bahamas and points south. I reflected on where we had been only a year previously; mildly shopping for a boat that we might begin cruising in several years hence. Our lives have changed monumentally. I wondered, where on earth did we find the confidence to think we can actually do this–neither of us with much real sailing or cruising experience? We knew a Tayana 37 could take care of us under almost any conditions, but could we take care of her?

Participating in the New England 600 Rally was without doubt the signal event in facilitating our successful transition to the cruising life. Entering the Rally forced us to prioritize our upgrade and maintenance projects to ensure that Callipygia would pass the Rally inspections, and to take a hard look at our own capacity as crew. It made us develop concrete plans of how to improve it. The Rally requirement of at least 3 crew, mandated that for this first shakedown trip we would recruit the necessary crew support so we could successfully make the Rally’s overnight transits. We were exceedingly fortunate to have Rich Wilder come with us for the Annapolis to Newport leg of the Rally. Participation in Nautech’s Offshore Passagemaking Seminar, and subsequent Offshore First Aid and Safety Equipment seminar, at the Maritime Institute of Training and Graduate Studies near Baltimore, ensured that not only did we have a good theoretical understanding of offshore cruising procedures, and put us in touch with numerous resources, but it also gave us actual hands-on experience in handling emergency-at-sea situations.

On reflection, however, the most important aspect of participating in the Rally was the return trip. The Rally got us to Camden safely with sufficient experience under our belt that we should be able to make it back home to the Chesapeake. We were going to have, of necessity, to do this on our own. And that return trip was where we gained the confidence and experience to think we really could become blue-water cruisers. Despite many anxieties before starting the return, we never found ourselves in a situation we couldn’t handle. And, in two rough weather situations, we learned what a complete rock the Tayana 37 is. Looking forward out of the cockpit in a blinding thunderstorm, with miserably uncomfortable seas, Callipygia’s broad untrembling deck gave us a most comforting feeling of high confidence in her.

The return trip, with just we two as crew, offered challenges and opportunities to stretch our abilities, practice our theoretical skills, and trust our own competence. It helped that we won the Navigational Excellence Award among the Rally boats. By following the navigation dictums of the Power Squadron and the American Sailing Association rigorously, the Award taught us that our navigational skills were, in fact, quite good. As Bill said, “we may not have known what we were doing, but we always knew where we were.” And now, we did think we knew what were doing enough to truly take off! And so we did.


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Bill Dillon (KG4QFM)
Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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